Discovery of aluminium and rare earth element hyperaccumulator plants in Australia

Despite major advances in the discovery of transition element hyperaccumulators, especially for manganese and nickel, rare earth element (REE) hyperaccumulator plants number only a few species globally, with most work restricted to the fern Dicranopteris linearis from China. However, REE hyperaccumulators may not be rare, but await discovery. The chemical similarities between aluminium and REEs suggest that aluminium hyperaccumulators may have a high affinity for REEs, and accumulate these elements when growing on REE-rich soil, although that may not occur in nature.

The Australian flora is particularly rich in aluminium hyperaccumulator plants, hence raising the prospect for important discoveries of plants that may accumulate REEs. The use of novel analytical screening techniques, including X-ray Fluorescence Spectroscopy (XRF) and reflectance spectroscopy will be used to screen for aluminium REE hyperaccumulators in the Australian flora. Following on from the discovery-phase, targeted ecophysiological experiments will be conducted on selected species to better understand the fundamental mechanisms of REE uptake and accumulation.


In 2018, Imam graduated with cum laude distinction from the University of Twente, the Netherlands, with a Master of Science degree in Geo-information and Earth Observation with the specialisation applied earth science - geological remote sensing. In his master thesis, he quantified the concentration of rare earth elements in tailings and measured the light reflected by tailings in order to find a way to target rare earth element-bearing tailings from space. After completing his Master's, he decided to pursue questions about plants that can be used environmentally friendly for removing rare earth element and aluminium in tailings, and started his PhD in CMLR in 2019.

While being a student, Imam was appointed by the Dean of Faculty of Geo-Information Science and Earth Observation (ITC) at the University of Twente as a member of Program Committee, acting as a quality assurance of the faculty and giving advice on academic and policy. In 2017, Imam won the Geological Remote Sensing Group (GRSG) student award, and GRSG, a special interest group of the Geological Society of London (GeolSoc) and the Remote Sensing and Photogrammetry Society (RSPSoc), granted £1000 to support his studies. He received the ITC Excellence Program 2018  which is a three-month extension after graduation for publishing an academic article and doing research.


Associate Professor Peter Erskine & Dr Antony van der Ent